Cigarette taxes in the United States

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Smokers as a percentage of the population for the United States as compared with the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, and Finland.

In the United States cigarettes are taxed at both the federal and state levels, in addition to any state and local sales taxes and local cigarette-specific taxes. Cigarette taxation has appeared throughout American history and is still a contested issue today.


Although cigarettes were not popular in the United States until the mid-19th century, the federal government still attempted to implement a tax on tobacco products such as snuff early on in its history. In 1794, secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton introduced the first ever federal excise tax on tobacco products. Hamilton’s original proposal passed after major modifications, only to be repealed shortly thereafter with an insignificant effect on the federal budget.[1] Even though Hamilton’s tax on tobacco failed, tobacco taxation continued to play an important role in American history.

On July 1, 1862, the United States Congress passed excise taxes on many items including tobacco. This occurred as a result of the Union’s increasing debt during the American Civil War and the Federal government’s need for additional revenue. After the war, many of these excise taxes were repealed but the tax on tobacco remained. In fact, by 1868 the Government’s main source of income came from these lingering tobacco taxes.[2]

Despite the excise tax of the Federal government, states did not ratify a tobacco excise tax until well into the 20th century. In 1921, Iowa became the first state to pass a tobacco excise tax at the state level in addition to the federal tax.[3] Other states quickly followed suit, and by 1950, 40 states and Washington D.C. enacted taxes on cigarette sales.[4]

By 1969, all U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the territories had implemented cigarette taxes. Several cities such as Chicago and New York City have also implemented their own citywide cigarette taxes. The combined federal, state, county, and local tax on a pack of twenty cigarettes in the city of Chicago, in Cook County, Illinois, is $7.42, the highest in the entire country. The lowest rate in the nation is in Missouri, at 17 cents, where the state's electorate voted to keep it that way in 2002, 2006, and 2012.[5][6]

Under the Obama Administration[edit]

On February 4, 2009, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 was signed into law, which raised the federal tax rate for cigarettes on April 1, 2009 from $0.39 per pack to $1.01 per pack.[7][8] The increase was to help cover the cost of increased coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

One of the biggest critiques of the passing of this bill comes from economists who believe that an increase in the federal cigarette tax will lead to decreased funding for state programs that rely on their own state cigarette taxes.[9] According to Nobel Prize–winning economist Gary Becker, who has studied the long-run price elasticity of cigarettes, the tax increase as a result of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act increases the price of cigarettes 13.3% which ultimately means a 10.6% decrease in unit sales. The National Tax Foundation calculates these numbers to determine a predicted $1 billion loss for states. Another argument against this bill claims it to be regressive, holding that the tax increase unfairly targets the poor because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than half of all smokers are low income.[10] The CDC also notes that, "However, because low-income groups are more responsive to price increases, increasing the real price of cigarettes can reduce cigarette consumption among low-income smokers by a greater percentage than among higher-income smokers, and thereby diminish socioeconomic smoking disparities.[11] Further, lower-income communities also suffer from tobacco-related illnesses at a disproportionately higher rater than their higher-income counterparts.[12]

In a study conducted on behalf of the New York State Department of Health, it revealed that low-income smokers (those in households making under $30,000), spent an average of 23.6% of their annual household income on cigarettes, compared to 2.2% for smokers in households making over $60,000.[13]

Effects on smoking rates[edit]

One of the reasons for the support of increased cigarette taxes among public health officials is that many studies show that this leads to a decrease in smoking rates.[14] The relationship between smoking rates and cigarette taxes follows the property of elasticity; the greater the amount of the tax increase, the fewer cigarettes that are bought and consumed.[15] This is especially prevalent amongst teenagers. For every ten percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes, youth smoking rates overall drop about seven percent.[16] This rate is also true amongst minorities and low income population smokers.[17] The rates of calls to quitting hot-lines are directly related to cigarette tax hikes. When Wisconsin raised its state cigarette tax to $1.00 per pack, the hot-line received a record of 20,000 calls in a two-month time period versus its typical 9,000 calls annually.[18]

An analysis of smoking and cigarette tax rates in 1955 through 1964, prior to the Surgeon General’s first report and general antismoking sentiment, shows the same relationship between tax increases and declining smoking rates that are prevalent today, suggesting that popular attitudes towards smoking are not a confounding factor.[15]

In 2012, RTI International conducted an analysis of data from the 2010-2011 New York and national Adult Tobacco Surveys to assess the financial burden cigarette taxes place on low-income families for the New York State Department of Health. According to ABC News, the study found that "higher cigarette taxes may be financially hurting low-income smokers rather than making them more likely to quit." Among the 13,000 surveyed in New York State, lower income smokers spent 23.6 percent of their income on cigarettes, compared to two percent by higher income New York residents and an average of 14 percent among lower-income smokers nationally.[19][20]

Taxes as a proportion of cigarette prices[edit]

While the price of cigarettes has continuously increased since 1965, the percentage of that price going towards taxes is now half of what it was then.[17] While tobacco companies complain about the $1.01 cigarette tax, Phillip Morris, Reynolds American, and Lorillard have all increased their prices by almost $1.00 per pack on their own.[21][not in citation given] Phillip Morris currently lists total government revenue, including federal, state, local, and sales taxes, as 56.6% of the estimated retail price of a pack of cigarettes.[22]

State cigarette tax rates[edit]

The following table lists American state and territory tax rates (as of August 1, 2013):[21][23]

Taxes on the purchase of packs of cigarettes in each state
States are shaded on a continuous color scale where
  Less than $2 excise tax per pack
  $2 excise tax per pack
  $4 excise tax per pack
Excise tax per pack (in USD) State or territory
0.425 Alabama
2.00 Alaska
2.00 Arizona
1.15 Arkansas
0.87 California
0.84 Colorado
3.40 Connecticut
1.60 Delaware
1.339 Florida
0.37 Georgia
3.20 Hawaii
0.57 Idaho
1.98[24] Illinois
0.995 Indiana
1.36 Iowa
0.79 Kansas
0.60 Kentucky
0.36 Louisiana
2.00 Maine
2.00 Maryland
3.51 Massachusetts
2.00 Michigan
3.34 Minnesota
0.68 Mississippi
0.17 Missouri
1.70 Montana
0.64 Nebraska
0.80 Nevada
1.68 New Hampshire
2.70 New Jersey
1.66 New Mexico
4.35[25] New York
0.45 North Carolina
0.44 North Dakota
1.25 Ohio
1.03 Oklahoma
1.31 Oregon
1.60 Pennsylvania
3.50 Rhode Island
0.57 South Carolina
1.53 South Dakota
0.62 Tennessee
1.41 Texas
1.70 Utah
2.62 Vermont
0.30 Virginia
3.025 Washington
0.55 West Virginia
2.52 Wisconsin
0.60 Wyoming
2.50 District of Columbia
1.75 Northern Marianas Islands
2.23 Puerto Rico
3.00 Guam
2.50 American Samoa
1.78 U.S. Virgin Islands

The above table does not include the federal excise tax on cigarettes of $1.01 per pack, cigarette taxes levied by individual municipalities (such as New York City, Chicago, and Anchorage), or sales taxes levied in addition to the retail price and excise taxes.

Non-cigarette tobacco taxes[edit]

Taxes on smokeless (chewing) tobacco, as well as (and often concurrent with) snuff, cigars and pipe tobacco, are also common in the United States. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have such a non-cigarette tax(es), Pennsylvania being the sole exception, having no smokeless or cigar tax at all (though it considers small cigars to be cigarettes for taxation purposes). Of the 49 states that do impose in this category, Florida does not tax cigars, though all other tobacco products are taxed. The U.S. federal government charges different non-cigarette excise taxes, according to the following 6 categories: snuff, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, roll-your-own, large cigars, and small cigars.[26] Cigarette papers and tubes are also taxed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
  2. ^ "Fact Sheets: Taxes: History of the U.S. Tax System". United States Department of the Treasury. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. 
  3. ^ Iowa | Tobacco Facts
  4. ^
  5. ^ "A burning issue," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 12, 2006
  6. ^ Tim O'Neil, "Missouri keeps tobacco tax as the lowest in the nation", St. Louis Post-Dispatch (November 7, 2012)
  7. ^ Section 701(b) reads: Section 5701(b) of such Code [Internal Revenue Code of 1986] is amended — (1) by striking ‘‘$19.50 per thousand ($17 per thousand on cigarettes removed during 2000 or 2001)’’ in paragraph (1) and inserting ‘‘$50.33 per thousand’’, and (2) by striking ‘‘$40.95 per thousand ($35.70 per thousand on cigarettes removed during 2000 or 2001)’’ in paragraph (2) and inserting ‘‘$105.69 per thousand’’. "United States Public Law No: 111-3 (123 United States Statutes at Large 106)". 4 February 2009. Archived from the original on 6 May 2009. 
  8. ^ American Lung Association Celebrates Public Health Victory
  9. ^ Americans for Tax Reform :: \"We Told You So:\" Increased Tobacco Tax Rate Reduces Revenues in Arkansas
  10. ^ Brad Schiller Says Barack Obama's Tobacco Tax Will Hurt the Poor -
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ State Tobacco Taxes - Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
  13. ^ Jessica Stanton (22 September 2012). "State-funded study: Cigarette tax hurts New York’s poor most". Daily Caller. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b The effect of state cigarette tax increases on cigarette sales, 1955 to 1988
  16. ^ Medical News Today
  17. ^ a b WHO: The Tobacco Atlas
  18. ^
  19. ^ Salahi, Lara (September 20, 2012). "Cigarette Tax Burdens Low-Income, Doesn’t Deter Smoking". ABC News. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  20. ^ Farrelly, Matthew; James M. Nonnemaker and Kimberly A. Watson (September 20, 2012), "The Consequences of High Cigarette Excise Taxes for Low-Income Smokers", PLoS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043838, retrieved July 19, 2013 
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ "Cigarette Excise Taxes – A National View". Philip Morris USA. Archived from the original on December 5, 2013. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  23. ^ Georgia’s budget mess could hurt local health care » Health » The Daily Citizen, Dalton, GA
  24. ^ Lawmakers OK $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike
  25. ^ Want to Bring Down Smoking Rates? Follow the Lead of New York – Sheelah A. Feinberg
  26. ^